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Home » Music Business » Electronic Replacement: A Challenge for All Musicians

Electronic Replacement: A Challenge for All Musicians


by Heather Boehm, Theatre Musicians Association President and Member of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL)

As box-office hit musicals return, we’re thankful for the artistically fulfilling repertoire and stable paycheck they provide for musicians. However, we are being challenged as our theater contracts must address modern music software and programming technology¬ (devices such as KeyComp, Ableton, Fractal, and Kemper). Whether on Broadway, national tours, symphonic pops concerts, or in local theaters, how we respond to these technological innovations is critical to our ability to proactively protect jobs and the integrity of live performance.

While smaller theaters and organizations have relied on programming technology for decades, the national touring productions are part of a much bigger picture. Some theater collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) contain electronic replacement language that has not been updated since the early 2000s. Electronic programming, whether for percussion, guitar, or keyboard, happens on nearly every production. It is work done by musicians and should be included in our CBAs.

The current Pamphlet B agreement contains few restrictions on virtual replacement. The new technology allows producers to travel shows into smaller markets and reduce the band size in smaller theaters.

Musicians can’t afford to be passive on virtual replacement. We must internalize the lessons learned from the digital revolution and achieve collective action by focusing on what we can do now.

  • Lisen to Musicians—Acknowledge musicians’ job security concerns related to reduced orchestrations and electronic replacement. Negotiating committees should include the issue of electronic replacement in surveys sent to bargaining units prior to negotiation.
  • Disclosure and Approval—Require producers to disclose what technologies are being used in theater productions. Several cities have strengthened their CBAs by incorporating disclosure and approval of technologies/software and predicate the use of technology on approval.
  • Establish Local Electronic Music Committees—These committees can review the disclosures outlined above, play a role in approving software, and make recommendations about programming and preparation rates.
  • Consider Existing Premiums—Adopting premiums can be part of larger approach by musicians to fight electronic replacement and smaller instrumentations.

Taking these steps can help ensure fair compensation and job security for musicians and organize more workplaces, as well as help to raise public awareness.

Even if you’ve seldom or never played for a show, these technological changes and concerns are felt widely and deeply by all musicians. Joining the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA), which actively addresses these issues, is a tangible way to show your solidarity with these concerns and uphold the integrity of live performance.

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